Review by © Jane Freebury
It is good to see—if this marvellous film gets it right—that the Australian Lionel Logue had a healthy disregard for the English class system when he was a speech therapist in Harley Street. Brought to life, and to our attention, by Geoffrey Rush, he would not be put down by the snobbery that goes with it and insisted on equality within his rooms so he could relieve the Duke of York (Colin Firth) of his crippling stutter. Crikey, anyone heard of this bloke Logue and his place in history before?
Written with warmth and acuity by David Seidler, an American screenwriter who apparently has a stutter himself, it follows the course of the treatment that Logue gave the Duke when he showed up at his clinic as ‘Mr Johnston’. It ends with him addressing his country as king when Britain entered the war in 1939. There were a few stammers there, but as he observed, how would the public know it was him unless there were a few of the usual awkward pauses.
King George VI could joke about it then, but his difficulties became painfully public while as Duke he opened a major exhibition at Wembley in 1925. It prompted him to try something radical with an unorthodox Australian therapist – he and his sympathetic wife (Helena Bonham-Carter has shed the goth weeds for a change) were desperate – who might bring the shy but proud man out of himself. We know he managed the opening of our (Old) Parliament House in 1927, but the problem apparently persisted.
He reluctantly agreed to sessions conducted on first-name basis, even let Lionel address him by his family diminutive ‘Bertie’. To free him up, they sang to the tune of ‘Swanee River’ together, made fools of themselves, and let rip with the expletives. There are funny scenes in abundance on the journey to find the man’s inner boy who began stuttering at 4 or 5, and was a left-hander forced to write with his right, a common practice in those days.
The stakes were high on this personal journey – it was in the national interest that the king found his tongue. After the death of the stern old king his father (Michael Gambon) and the abdication of his reprobate older brother (Guy Pierce), Britain was staring into the maw of war. It needed a leader who wouldn’t freeze in front of a microphone—and sound like a leader. Herr Hitler was doing pretty well on that score at the time.
Radio, the new technology of the time, meant monarchs had to be actors. Before it arrived, all they had to do was stay on their horse.
Like all good things, you won’t want this film to finish. It’s a gift that gives audiences pleasure.
In a capsule: A superbly entertaining film with Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham-Carter in top form in a drama about a man who wouldn’t be king, but he had to. A small but important piece of history, and it’s only just come to our notice.